Mind the scary rhetoric

  • Letters
  • Saturday, 19 Mar 2016

DESPITE the ghost of 1MDB lingering in the background and the bad politics surrounding it, the news on the economy is encouraging. The ringgit is now one of Asia’s best performing currencies, benefitting from the stronger oil prices, implementation of the GST and the growing dynamism of domestic economic activities in driving GDP growth.

With Europe and Japan adopting easy monetary policies to spur their domestic recovery, driving down yields in their home markets, foreign funds are turning to emerging economies in pursuit of better returns. Malaysia is also seeing foreign funds returning to our economy, keeping our stock market relatively resilient to the global uncertainties and helping our external reserves to remain in a stable condition .

All this should lead to better consumer and investor confidence in the months ahead, especially if the politics return to stability soon.

We must congratulate our economic ministers, civil servants and the central agencies like the Economic Planning Unit, Finance Ministry, Bank Negara Malaysia, International Trade and Industry Ministry and Pemandu for all their dedication and hard work to keep the country in the forefront of reforms and modernisation.

With Malaysia in the Asean Economic Community and soon joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, our close links with the world will be seen as an endorsement of the fundamental principles of openness and transparency in managing our country’s economic, social and political systems. We are showing our commitment to a high level of tolerance for different views.

This is very encouraging for businesses and investors because with openness and liberal policies, they can see the path ahead more clearly. A country is more attractive to investors when its government is open to all ideas.

Unfortunately, some government ministers are working at cross purposes with the moderate views of the leadership and the economic ministers with their tough talk on religion. Recently, a minister in the Prime Minister’s Department made a worrying statement in Parliament that the Government is monitoring the liberals for their different views and interpretations of the Koran and the hadith. He sounded a warning that they are under surveillance, a chilling reminder of what authoritarian regimes can do to their own citizens to stifle their freedom of speech, as we saw in the Arab Spring countries and as we can see today in communist North Korea.

Ministers should know that despite our economic strength, a statement in Parliament like the one made recently, which scares people and makes them think we are heading towards religious dictatorship, will quickly lead to a loss of confidence on the future of the country.

This in turn will drive away talent and business to other countries competing with us for trade, investments and human resources. When our own citizens worry for the future, foreign investors will switch Malaysia off their radar and look elsewhere for more stable envinronments.

We all have seen from the experience of other countries what a failed state can lead to.

A failed state leads to economic ruin, which in Muslim countries feeds extremism and breeds Islamic terrorism.

That’s what makes the minister’s statement scary. It can lead to a chain of events towards national disaster. It has to be stopped before it gets out of control.


Kuala Lumpur

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